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U.S. Congress members decry ‘ethnic cleansing’ in Myanmar; Suu Kyi doubts allegations

YANGON/NAYPYITAW (Reuters) – Members of the U.S. Congress said on Tuesday operations carried out against the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar had “all the hallmarks” of ethnic cleansing, while the country’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi expressed doubts about allegations of rights abuses.

The U.S. Senate members also said they were disturbed by a “violent and disproportionate” security response to Rohingya militant attacks that have driven more than 600,000 people from Myanmar to neighbouring Bangladesh.

Human rights monitors have accused Myanmar’s military of atrocities, including mass rape, against the stateless Rohingya during so-called clearance operations following insurgent attacks on 30 police posts and an army base.

Myanmar’s government has denied most of the claims, and the army last week said its own probe found no evidence of wrongdoing by troops.

“We are not hearing of any violations going on at the moment,” Suu Kyi told reporters in response to a question about human rights abuses at the end of the Asia-Europe Meeting, or ASEM, in Myanmar’s capital Naypyitaw.

“We can’t say whether it has happened or not. As a responsibility of the government, we have to make sure that it won’t happen.”

Nobel laureate Suu Kyi said she hoped talks with Bangladesh’s foreign minister this week would lead to a deal on the “safe and voluntary return” of those who have fled.

Suu Kyi’s less than two-year old civilian government has faced heavy international criticism for its response to the crisis, though it has no control over the generals it has to share power with under Myanmar’s transition to power after decades of military rule.


While a top UN official has described the military’s actions as a textbook case of “ethnic cleansing”, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on a visit to Myanmar last week refused to label it as such.

In early November, U.S. lawmakers proposed targeted sanctions and travel restrictions on Myanmar military officials.

Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley, who was among the sponsors of the legislation introduced in the Senate, led a congressional delegation that visited Rakhine this week, but was blocked from traveling to the violence-hit north of the state and to Rohingya camps.

The group also traveled to Cox’s Bazar district in Bangladesh, where Rohingya refugees are huddled into makeshift camps and fed by overstretched aid agencies.

“Many refugees have suffered direct attacks including loved ones, children and husbands being killed in front of them, wives and daughters being raped, burns and other horrific injuries. This has all the hallmarks of ethnic cleansing,” Merkley told reporters in Myanmar on Tuesday.

“We are profoundly disturbed by the violent and disproportionate response against the Rohingya by the military and local groups,” he said.

The delegation called for Myanmar to allow an investigation into the alleged atrocities that would involve the international community.

“We want to emphasize that the world is watching,” Merkley said, adding that it was important Myanmar allow anyone who wants to come back to return to their homes and their farms.

Merkley said the delegation was “not here today to recommend…what the U.S. government would do or should do,” when asked about the legislation introduced in the Congress.


Myanmar officials have so far said they plan to resettle most returnees in new “model villages”, rather than on the land they previously occupied, an approach the United Nations has criticized in the past as effectively creating permanent camps.

“Individuals cannot be coming back…simply to return to camps where there would be continued discrimination, restrictions on full participation in the economy and society,” said Merkley.

He warned that isolating people in camps creates a “two-tier society that is fundamentally incompatible with the future of democracy and it guarantees perpetuation of suspicions and misunderstandings and conflicts.”

Speaking earlier on Tuesday, Suu Kyi said discussions would be held with the Bangladesh foreign minister on Wednesday and Thursday about repatriation. Officials from both countries began talks last month on how to process the Rohingya wanting to return.

“We hope that this would result in an MOU signed quickly, which would enable us to start the safe and voluntarily return of all of those who have gone across the border,” Suu Kyi said.

The Rohingya are largely stateless and many people in Myanmar view them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

Suu Kyi said Myanmar would follow the framework of an agreement reached in the 1990s to cover the earlier repatriation of Rohingya, who had fled to Bangladesh to escape previous bouts of ethnic violence.

That agreement did not address the citizenship status of Rohingya, and Bangladesh has been pressing for a repatriation process that provided Rohingya with more safeguards this time.

“It’s on the basis of residency…this was agreed by the two governments long time ago with success, so this will be formula we will continue to follow,” Suu Kyi said.

Earlier talks between the two countries reached a broad agreement to work out a repatriation deal, but a senior Myanmar official later accused Bangladesh of dragging its feet in order to secure funding from aid agencies for hosting the refugees.

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UN ready to help Myanmar process Rohingya citizenship

TOKYO — The United Nations refugee agency will provide technical assistance to the Myanmar government if it begins to process and verify citizenship for Rohingya to resolve the humanitarain crisis, the body’s top official said on Monday.

U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi described the Rohingya refugee crisis as the worst since the end of the Cold War and compared it to the ethnic cleansing during the Balkan War and the genocide in Rwanda in the 1990s.

“Violence has to be completely stopped and the problem of their citizenship has to be resolved,” Grandi told a press conference at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo. He said that the number of refugees from Myanmar’s Rakhine State to Bangladesh has exceeded 600,000 since the end of August.

He said: “We are aware that the talks are happening between Bangladesh and Myanmar to discuss the solution of future repatriation.” He added that the Myanmar government contacted an UNHCR office in Yangon to say it wanted to open talks about the repatriation of Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh to Myanmar.

He offered to be an adviser for both countries to help organize the repatriation procedure. He said the Myanmar government had an intention to verify citizenship of Rohingya refugees but was held back by the fact that many of them were undocumented. But he said the agency, with its vast experience in such matters, would be able to support the government in confirming information including where applicants had lived in the past.

He said: “We are also helping the government of Bangladesh to register Rohingya [who had] arrived from Myanmar.” He said that if Rohingya were registered as having come from Myammar, then they would at the very least have this document to prove their identity. He said that this form of registration in Bangladesh was “going well.”

Grandi referred to three elements to support his view that the situation was at the worst since the 1990s: the sheer number of refugees in just a few months, the shocking violence that caused Rohingya to flee especially that inflicted on women and children, and the vast humanitarian needs in Bangladesh as a result.

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Aung San Suu Kyi Blames Illegal Immigration for the ‘Spread of Terrorism’

(NAYPYITAW, Myanmar) — Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi said the world is facing instability and conflict in part because illegal immigration spreads terrorism in a speech Monday that comes as her country is accused of violently pushing out hundreds of thousands of unwanted Rohingya Muslims.

Suu Kyi did not directly mention the refugee exodus as she welcomed European and Asian foreign ministers to Naypyitaw, the capital of Myanmar. But her speech highlighted the views of many in Myanmar who see the Rohingya as illegal immigrants and blame the population for terrorist acts.

The ongoing Rohingya exodus is sure to be raised by the visitors at the meetings held Monday and Tuesday.

The world is in a new period of instability as conflicts around the world give rise to new threats and emergencies, Suu Kyi said, citing “Illegal immigration’s spread of terrorism and violent extremism, social disharmony and even the threat of nuclear war. Conflicts take away peace from societies, leaving behind underdevelopment and poverty, pushing peoples and even countries away from one another.”

Myanmar has been criticized for the military crackdown that has driven more than 620,000 Rohingya to flee Rakhine state into neighboring Bangladesh. The United Nations has said the crackdown appeared to be a campaign of ethnic cleansing, and some have called for re-imposing international sanctions that were lifted as Myanmar transitioned from military rule to elected government.

Suu Kyi is Myanmar’s foreign minister and state councilor, a title created for the country’s once-leading voice for democracy since she is constitutionally banned from the presidency. She does not command the military and cannot direct its operations in northern Rakhine state, but her remarks in seeming support of the brutal crackdown have damaged her global reputation.

In her speech to the visiting foreign ministers, Suu Kyi also cited natural disasters caused by climate change as compounding the world’s problems. She said mutual understanding of problems like terrorism would be crucial for peace and economic development.

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Call it genocide

The UN calls the Myanmar army’s aggression against the Rohingya “ethnic cleansing”. “Ethnic cleansing” is a term invented by Slobodan Milosevic. It’s a euphemism for forced displacement and genocide. It’s an insidious term because there is no international treaty law against it, whereas there are international laws against forced displacement and genocide.

“Ethnic cleansing” is not a crime under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. It has no legal meaning in international law. Another term without legal meaning is “atrocities”.

Genocidal massacres are acts of genocide. Genocide is defined as acts intended to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group. They include killing, causing serious bodily or mental harm, and inflicting conditions of life on a group calculated to bring about its physical destruction, in whole or in part.

Over 600,000 Rohingya have fled into Bangladesh in the past three months to escape systematic massacres by the Myanmar army that has slaughtered thousands of Rohingya and burned over 500 Rohingya villages to the ground. The killings continue today.

Genocidal massacres are precisely what the Myanmar army and Rakhine militias are committing against the Rohingya. Myanmar is committing both “ethnic cleansing” [forced displacement] and genocide. The crimes often go together. Genocidal massacres are used to terrorise a victim group into fleeing.

Why does the so-called “international community” avoid using the word “genocide”?

Many people think “genocide” requires millions of deaths. Thousands aren’t enough. But the Genocide Convention outlaws intentional destruction “in part” of ethnic or religious groups.

Lawyers have gutted the word “genocide” by insisting on proof of “specific” intent beyond a reasonable doubt. Some even claim that only a court can invoke the word “genocide”.

This view is profoundly wrong. It ignores the very name of the International Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Courts judge genocide after it’s over—when it’s too late for prevention.

Myanmar’s systematic campaign of mass murder and destruction is surely enough proof of specific intent to destroy part of the Rohingya people.

Those who ignore the power of words argue that “ethnic cleansing”, “crimes against humanity” or “atrocities” are just as terrible as genocide.

They’re wrong. “Genocide” is a much more powerful word.

Three epidemiologists and I studied the impact of using the words “ethnic cleansing” rather than “genocide” in four genocides: Rwanda, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Darfur. We counted the number of times “ethnic cleansing” and “genocide” were used in The New York Times, UN statements, major law journals, and reports by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

Our study concluded:

–              Use of the terms has no relationship to the number of people killed. Eight thousand killed at Srebrenica was ruled “genocide” by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Yet a UN Commission of Inquiry held that over 50,000 killed in Darfur (now over 300,000) was a “crime against humanity” but not genocide.

–              The term chosen is determined by the willingness to take forceful action to stop the killing.

–              It was not until “genocide” became the dominant term, that force was used to stop it.

This tipping point occurred three months into the genocide in Rwanda. The US State Department finally admitted on June 10, 1994 that “acts of genocide” in Rwanda are the same as “genocide”. But recognition of “genocide” came too late.

Eight hundred thousand Rwandans were already dead.

The same denial emerged in Bosnia. The UN and press called the massacres “ethnic cleansing” from 1992 until the Srebrenica massacre in July 1995. A NATO meeting on July 21 called it “genocide”. NATO bombing of Serb forces followed on August 30. Milosevic agreed to a ceasefire, division of Bosnia, and NATO peacekeeping. The Bosnian genocide stopped.

Kosovo was called “ethnic cleansing” until US Ambassador David Scheffer noted “indicators of genocide” on April 7, 1999. Bombing of Belgrade followed immediately, with Serb surrender and NATO occupation of Kosovo.

Darfur is the exception that proves the rule. The UN refused to invoke the G word: “genocide”. No military forces were sent to stop the crimes. Instead the African Union and UN sent “monitors” to observe them. The Darfur genocide continues to this day.

The UN avoids the word “genocide” because world leaders avoid military action to stop it.

Genocide is not a sacred or magic word. But when the word “genocide” is used, force to stop it becomes possible. Weaker words like ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity, or atrocities mean that no force will be used to stop the massacres.

Will the UN send troops to protect the Rohingya when they are forced to return to Myanmar? Not if the UN denies that Myanmar is committing genocide against the Rohingya. World leaders will again fail to stop the Crime of Crimes.

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US delegation: These are war crimes

The lawmakers call on the premier came a day after the visited the Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar’s Kutupalang

Visiting US lawmakers on Sunday dubbed the atrocities inflicted on Rohingyas by Myanmar security forces as “war crimes,” as they called on Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina a day after visiting them in their makeshift refuge in Cox’s Bazar.

“It is like war crimes,” the prime minister’s press secretary Ihasnul Karim quoted the high-profile delegation’s leader Jeff Merkley as saying while talking to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina at Gonobhaban.

US Senator Richard Durbin, Congresswomen Betty McCollum and Jan Schakowsky and Congressman David N Cicilline were among others included in the delegation accompanied by US ambassador in Dhaka Marcia Stephens Bloom Bernicat.

The press secretary said the senators told Sheikh Hasina that every country should condemn the crime and ethnic cleansing and were of the opinion that the crisis deserved more international attention as it was required for its resolution and sending the forcibly displaced people back to their homeland.

Ishsanul said the premier laid importance on implementation of the Kofi Annan report to resolve the Rohingya crisis.

“Out of sense we have taken decision to give shelter to these oppressed people of Myanmar and share our food with them if necessary,” the premier said.

But, Sheikh Hasina said, Bangladesh wanted next-door Myanmar to take back their nationals with “full security” while under an identification system over 5,00,000 of them were provided identity cards by now.

The US senators call on the premier came a day after the visited the Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar’s Kutupalang.

The senators, the press secretary said, appreciated the premier for her generous response to the challenge of bracing the Rohingyas and said the US was ready to provide all assistance to resolve the crisis.

They said the Rohingyas said they were very much pleased with Bangladesh government for giving them the shelter as they interacted with the ethnic minority people.

Senator Merkley said they gathered firsthand information from the persecuted people in the Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar while the description of persecution was “horrifying.”

PM’s advisor Dr Gowher Rizvi and Principal Secretary Dr Kamal Abdul Naser Chowdhury were present on the occasion.

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US Congressional fact-finding mission visits Cox’s Bazar, witnesses Rohingya plight

Bangladesh to reject China’s proposals on Rohingya crisis

The government plans to reject a proposal by China recommending Bangladesh seek a bilateral solution to the ongoing Rohingya refugee crisis with Myanmar.

The Bangladesh government will speak in favour of international pressure on Myanmar, and will reject China’s offer for mediating an agreement with Myanmar during a meeting scheduled for Saturday.

The meeting will be attended by Bangladesh Minister of Foreign Affairs AH Mahmud Ali and his Chinese counterpart Wang YI, a government official told the Bangla Tribune.

The official added that Bangladesh will continue to hold dialogue with Myanmar to resolve the refugee crisis, but the international community must remain involved in the matter.

China has been recommending Bangladesh reach a bilateral solution to the Rohingya issue with Myanmar, and advised against involving the international community.

Chinese special envoy of Asian Affairs Sun Guoxiang pressed this issue during his visit to Dhaka earlier on November this year.

Addressing the matter, the government official said: “Bangladesh has held bilateral discussions with Myanmar over the Rohingya issue on numerous occasions, but had failed to make any headway in resolving the crisis.

“As soon as Bangladesh changed its stance and sought involvement from the international community, attempts to resolve the crisis began,” the official added.

“We do not think China’s offer to help solve the Rohingya crisis, and the recommendation of not involving the international community is acceptable.”

The official also said Bangladesh does not agree with China’s stance on dealing with the Rohingya refugee crisis, and will continue to hold dialogue with the international community, including China, to bring the refugee crisis to an end.

On October 25, following a meeting with Chinese special envoy Sun Guoxiang, Foreign Secretary M Shahidul Haque told reporters: “We have presented our stance over the matter. I told him [Guoxiang] when he visited Bangladesh six months ago, there were only 400,000 Rohingya refugees, now there are over 1,000,000.”

“This is the gravity of the situation,” Shahidul had said.

The foreign secretary had also admitted that China is recommending that Bangladesh should seek a bilateral solution to the Rohingya refugee issue with Myanmar.

This article was first published on Bangla Tribune

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Myanmar: Military attempts to whitewash crimes against humanity targeting Rohingya

In response to findings released today after the Myanmar military’s internal investigation into violence in northern Rakhine State since 25 August, James Gomez, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, said:

“Once again, Myanmar’s military is trying to sweep serious violations against the Rohingya under the carpet.

“With more than 600,000 women, men and children having fled Rakhine State in recent months fearing for their lives, there is overwhelming evidence that the military has murdered and raped Rohingya and burned their villages to the ground. After recording countless stories of horror and using satellite analysis to track the growing devastation we can only reach one conclusion: these attacks amount to crimes against humanity.

“The Myanmar military has made clear it has no intention of ensuring accountability; it’s now up to the international community to step up to ensure these appalling abuses do not go unpunished.

“The full extent of the violations against the Rohingya and other ethnic minorities will not be known until the UN Fact-Finding Mission and other independent observers are given unfettered access to Myanmar, and in particular Rakhine State.”

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Downing Street says Burma’s treatment of Rohingya Muslims looks like ‘ethnic cleansing’

No 10 comments come as an estimated 600,000 people have fled Rakhine state in just three months

Downing Street has said the actions of military forces in Burmaagainst the Rohingya people “looks like ethnic cleansing”.

Theresa May‘s spokesman made the comments as hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims are fleeing to Bangladeshfollowing an army operation in their homeland in Myanmar.

It came as Burmese government announced that the army general in charge of operations in Rakhine state has been replaced.

Theresa May’s spokesman said: “We’ve been appalled by the inhumane violence that’s taking place in Rakhine state.

“It’s a major humanitarian crisis. It’s been created by the Burmese military and it looks like ethnic cleansing.”

The intervention follows a brutal crackdown on the community by ethnic Rakhines and the Burmese military.

An estimated 600,000 Rohingya are already believed to have fled to the neighbouring Bangladesh since the start of the crackdown in late August.

It began when a group of Rohingya militants, which called themselves the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, carried out simultaneous attacks on 20 police posts in Rakhine state – killing 12 officers.

According to UN estimates, around 1,000 people have died but the Burmese military has claimed the figure is closer to 400.

The UN has already condemned the violence, saying it is a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.

The government claims they are the descents of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, and refers to them as Bengalis, who arrived in the country after Partition in 1947 and has denied them citizenship – making them stateless.

But the Rohingya say they are indigenous to the area, claiming descent from the precolonial Arakan civilisation.

Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been condemned by the international community for her failure to stand up for the Rohingya.

She has faced calls for her to be stripped of the numerous humanitarian honours and awards, including the Nobel Peace Prize, she received during her years under house arrest for challenging the country’s ruling military junta.

Last month she was stripped of her Freedom of Oxford award, which she received in 1997 for her “struggle for democracy”, and musician Bob Geldof has announced he is returning his Freedom of Dublin over Ms Suu Kyi having the same prize.

At the beginning of this latest wave of violence, the Ministry of Defence announced it would suspend its “education programme” where it trains the Burmese military “until there is an acceptable resolution to the current situation”.

A spokesman for the MoD told The Independent in September: “We call on the Burmese Armed Forces to take immediate steps to stop the violence in Rakhine and ensure the protection of all civilians, to allow full access for humanitarian aid and to facilitate the civilian government’s implementation of the Rakhine Advisory Commission’s recommendations in full.”

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‘What’s happening with the Rohingya is genocide’

Shohel Mamun

 and Ashif Islam Shaon of Dhaka Tribune speaks with British Member of Parliament George Foulkes He discussed the upcoming Bangladesh general election in 2019 and the Rohingya crisis. Foulkes, Baron Foulkes of Cumnock PC is a British Labour Co-operative life peer. He has been a member of the House of Commons, the Scottish Parliament and as a life peer is now a member of the House of Lords

What could Commonwealth countries do to solve the Rohingya problem?

Bangladesh has done a lot better than a lot of countries with the Rohingya crisis. Both the people and the government of Bangladesh should be congratulated for their sincere efforts. We want to help Bangladesh and are making every effort to ensure CAP countries are beside Bangladesh to help solve this problem. Every country should put pressure on Myanmar to address their responsibilities.

My hope is that the Rohingya problem is resolved quickly. But things as they are, Bangladesh is a developing country and is faced with far more complications than other developed countries. Britain along with other countries has started to provide funds and assistance to the Bangladeshi government to aid in the effort.

We will raise the Rohingya issue in our parliament to find an effective solution.

Do you think there is a bilateral solution to this problem?

There is a need to have a bilateral agreement between the countries on this issue and Bangladesh needs support from other countries such as the UK. If there is commitment from the global community, it is possible to find a bilateral solution.

In your opinion, do you think Myanmar government has been delaying their efforts to find a solution?

Yes they are. This is genocide. British media has broadcasted reports of Myanmar army torturing the Rohingya people. Every country has a responsibility to pressurise the Myanmar government to find an effective solution quickly.

What are your thoughts on the polls for the upcoming Bangladeshi elections?

Great Britain has been practicing democracy for a very long time. I visited Bangladesh in 1991 during national elections and at the time, all parties, including BNP and Awami league, participated in what I felt was a free and fair electoral process.

However, in the previous election many questions were raised and phrases like “one party election” were being thrown around. My hope is that all parties will come together and participate in the upcoming national elections because in the end, democracy doesn’t work without participation.

What are some challenges in a democracy?

There are a lot of challenges. Take Russia for instance who are said to have influenced the recent US Polls by using social media. Fabricating news to influence the outcome of an election is a global issue and Bangladesh is no exception.

There is however, a difference between developed countries and developing countries such as Bangladesh. In the US, people are able to go and vote freely in a safe and secure polling station that are monitored and where vote rigging is not possible. While the economy of Bangladesh is rising, it is still developing and that brings its own set of challenges.

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